Ice Axe Ratings

Ice axes can be broken down into two categories; Ice axes and ice tools. Ice tools are commonly used for technical vertical ice climbing, mixed rock and ice climbing, and dry tooling (rock climbing with ice tools). Their picks are usually dropped at a sharp angle for hooking and they usually have a curved shaft for better handling.

Ice axes on the other hand are used as walking sticks and for climbing steep snowy or icy slopes. They can also be use for self-arrest, a method to stop yourself when sliding uncontrollably down a snowy slope.

Mountaineering has become such a popular sport that companies have begun producing many hybrids and crosses between Ice axes and ice tools so it is now common to refer to both ice axes and ice tools as ice axes and the UIAA (Union Internationale Des Associations D’Alpinisme), known in the US as International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, has developed a rating system that can be applied interchangeably between Ice tools, Ice axes, and hybrids of the two.

Ice axes are now given either Type B for basic or a type T for technical rating. These are the definitions of these ratings from the UIAA website.

Type B = Basic type, with lower strength, for use in general circumstances as on glacier for snow hiking, for ski mountaineering, etc.

Type T = Technical type, with higher strength, for use in all circumstances especially for ice climbing, dry tooling, etc.


Test Simulations B T
3-point bend test on the shaft rappelling off an ice tool as a dead-man 2.5 kN 3.5 kN
Strength of head/shaft interface in use direction pulling out on shaft when ice climbing 0.6 kN 0.9kN
Strength of head/shaft interface perpendicular to "use direction" Boot-axe belay 2.5 kN 4.0 kN
Torque test of pick Cranking your tool shaft while pick is embedded in ice 127 kN 182 kN
Fatigue torque test of pick Extensive side to side twisting of pick to extract from ice No test 80 N
Attachment points on the shaft and spike for leashes and clip-in Your body hanging off the tool 2 kN 2 kN


The bottom line:

B-rated tools aren’t recommended for vertical assents but if you’re on a long trek and you won’t be doing any mixed or dry tool climbing they you will probably be fine. A T-rated axe is ideal for vertical assents but they can be heavy to carry for long assents. For general mountaineering you can get by with a B-rated tool but for technical alpine routes a T-rated tool is highly recommended. For climbing frozen waterfalls or dry tooling, a T-rated axe is mandatory.